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Restoring Music History…Again

Posted By wisen On June 20, 2013 @ 5:21 pm In mini-feature,Spring 2013 | No Comments

Steve Buchanan may be the only Owen graduate responsible for saving music history twice.

As general manager of the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, revered as the Mother Church of Country Music, Buchanan oversaw the building’s million dollar renovation and reinstatement as one of the world’s premiere music venues.

Flood waters at the Opry stage door, May 3, 2010

Flood waters at the Opry stage door, May 3, 2010

On May 2, 2010, the momentous flood that destroyed parts of Nashville also devastated the Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland in Donelson, the home to the Grand Ole Opry since the 1970s. In the hours when floodwaters entered the building and rose, Buchanan and a team of 10-15 workers courage-ously stayed in the flood zone to protect and preserve instruments, historic recordings and other artifacts by moving them to safety. Even so, not everything could be saved.

When the rain stopped, the ground floor of the 4,400-seat Opry house was covered with muddy water up to its back four rows. Forty-six inches of water covered the stage. Almost everything would need to be replaced: seats, retail store, lobby, dressing rooms, green room, control booth, stage, stage curtains and rigging, along with the mechanical and power systems.

Buchanan once again found himself charged with restoring another cherished building. “It breaks your heart, but it’s our responsibility to be sure that that building comes back to life, and it will,” Buchanan told USA Today.

In addition to overseeing the physical renovation of the building, Buchanan immediately hired restorers, conservators and luthiers (specialists in string instruments) to care for the historic artifacts, photos, tapes, costumes and instruments impacted by flood damage.

“After the flood waters receded, Steve led the recovery of the property—literally and figuratively,” noted Dave Kloeppel, BS’91, MBA’96, former president and COO of Gaylord Entertainment Company. “Importantly, Steve insisted the Opry never miss a show—and it didn’t. Using venues all over Nashville, the Opry never missed a beat.”

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Steve Buchanan on set of Nashville series. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Five short months later, Buchanan and the cast of the Grand Ole Opry stood on a new stage in a renovated Opry House and welcomed audiences back with a celebration dubbed “Country Comes Home.” Backstage, performers marveled over 17 dressing rooms, facilities, instrument lockers and a comfortable, cheery green room that featured a new artifact—a marker showing how high the waters reached in the historic flood.

In recognition of his resilience, courage and dedication to excellence, Owen honored Buchanan with the school’s inaugural Distinguished Service Award at Owen’s annual alumni dinner in 2012.


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